Monday, July 29, 2019

2019 Award Winners

Top Awards

Best Picture: The Last Witness
Nominees: Union, Sandpaper, Nathan's Kingdom, Ek Aasha, Second Samuel, Freshman Year, Wheels

Best Script: Requite
Nominees: The O'Malley, Rodeo, Brock Wilbur Adventure Pig, The Fourth Psalm, Caught Between Two Worlds

Film Jury Awards

Best Narrative Feature: Tarab
Nominees: Union, The Last Witness, Second Samuel, Shadow Lands, Ek Aasha, Nathan's Kingdom, Just Between Us, Sandpaper

Best Alternative Feature: Ek Aasha
Nominees: Freshman Year, Shadow Lands, Just Between Us, Nathan's Kingdom, Wheels, Another Yesterday

Best Student Film: Sif
Nominees: A Cold Spring, Can Dolls Be My Neighbor, The Shrinking Sky

Best Short Film: The Reckoning of Darkness
Nominees: My Million Dollar Mom, Their War, Virtually, The Magic Lantern, Son of Blackbeard, Foreign, A Blood Throne

Best Documentary: Shattered Dreams: Sex Trafficking in America
Nominees: The Stateless Diplomat, Beyond Sixty Project, Day of the Western Sunrise, From Liberty to Captivity, Doctor C, Beautiful Lie

Cultural Spirit: From Liberty to Captivity
Nominees: Minor Injustice, Shattered Dreams, From the Afghan People for Americans, Community First, Day of the Western Sunrise, Clean Hands

Best Biographical Film: The Stateless Diplomat: Diana Apcar's Heroic Life
Nominees: Doctor C, Beautiful Lie, Against the Wall, Anthonisen Sculptor, The Time We Have

Animal Welfare: Voice for the Wild
Nominees: Charlie Bee Company

Best Short Documentary: Vietnam Aftermath
Nominees: Redemption, Song of the Open Road: The Story of the Southern California Youth Chorale, Against the Wall, Voice for the Wild, Can Dolls Be My Neighbor

Best Foreign Film: Their War
Nominees: The Last Witness, Their War, Ek Aasha, Foreign, Think Back, Just Between Us

Best Experimental Short: A Blood Throne
Nominees: Foreign, From Emily, A Song for Luise

Indie Spirit: Just Between Us
Nominees: Tarab, Shadow Lands, Just Between Us, Think Back, Another Yesterday

Best Sci-Fi Film: Virtually
Nominees: The Reckoning of Darkness, A Song for Luise, Sif

Best Animated Film: Eagle Feather
Nominees: Refrigerator Animation, Night Light, Day of the Western Sunrise

Female Eye Filmmaking: Beyond Sixty Project
Nominees: Signs of Aging, Gloria, Union, From the Afghan People for Americans, From Emily, Tarab, Pretty Pretty Prison

Best Comedy: Son of Blackbeard
Nominees: Happy Birthday Rachel Confrancisco, Refrigerator Animation, Pretty Pretty Prison, Just Between Us, Only a Movie

Best Period Film: Second Samuel
Nominees: The Last Witness, Union, Their War, The Reckoning of Darkness

Student Cultural Spirit: Anyone Like Me
Nominees: Voice for the Wild

New Hope: Against the Wall
Redemption, Shattered Dreams: Sex Trafficking in America, Against the Wall, Clean Hands, Song of the Open Road, From the Afghan People for Americans

Artistic Spirit: Union
Nominees: Song of the Open Road: The Story of the Southern California Youth Chorale, Against the Wall, Ek Aasha, Union, Sandpaper, Nathan's Kingdom

GLBTQ Spirit: Beautiful Lie
Nominees: Australia Says Yes, Ek Aasha, Union, Foreign, Hiding in Daylight

Best Supernatural Film: Nathan's Kingdom
Nominees: Devil's Food Cake, The Reckoning of Darkness, From Emily

Best Webisode: Epic Quest
Nominees: Extra/Ordinary

Best Music Video: Shut Up! I'm on a Roll
Nominees: Tether, Lover Her Better, Let It Go: The Cat Thief, Never Been to War

Best Director: Whitney Hamilton
Nominees: Piotr Szkopiak, Max Mason, Jarett Bellucci, Jennifer Hanley, J Wayne Patterson, Xavier Garcia, Olicer Munoz, Mayur Katariya, Christopher Kulikowski

Script Jury Awards

Best Narrative Feature: The Fourth Psalm
Nominees: Requite, Old Soul, The O'Malley, Aktion 4, Beneficiary, Behold, Little Things Mean a Lot

Best Teleplay: Rodeo
Nominees: Caught Between Two Worlds, Brock Wilbur: Adventure Pig, Utopia Planitia, Forgiveness

Best Period Script: The O'Malley
Nominees: The Gael, Aktion 4, Robert Smalls, Life in a Time of War

Best Short Screenplay: The Gael
Nominees: Saraya, A Lonely Painter, So, Aliens from Inner Space, Wheels, The Vendor

Audience Choice Awards

Best Webisode: Extra/Ordinary
Best TV Pilot: Charlie Bee Company
Best Music Video: Let It Go: The Cat Thief
Best Narrative Feature: Second Samuel
Best Documentary: Beyond Sixty Project
Best Short Film: Virtually
Best Student Film: Voice for the Wild

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Stateless Diplomat: Diana Apcar's Heroic Life

This sublime biographical film profiles woman of letters Diana Apcar, the de facto ambassador for Armenia as the borderless nation suffered under Ottoman rule. Through personal connections, press outreach and on-the-ground relief efforts, she fought tirelessly to stop the genocide of her people. Due to her distinguished record, Apcar later earned a diplomatic post in the First Republic of Armenia at a time when women were barred from such endeavors around the world.

Director Mimi Malayan went to the highest lengths to honor Apcar's life, with fine production values and a deep reservoir of research. This film will take you back to a time when the world was very different, reminding us of how far we've come and how far we could fall if we forget the lessons of history.

You can watch the trailer here:



Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Against the Wall

If you're looking for a fresh source of inspiration, this is your ticket.

At a perilous moment in his childhood, Kevin Foster was electrocuted with 65,000 volts and 30 amps, leaving him in a recumbent state. Doctors told his parents he would never walk or talk again; he would be an invalid for the rest of a likely-shortened life. But after several years of therapy, right at the time President Nixon opened the door to the People's Republic of China, Kevin somehow climbed onto a bicycle. It was a pivotal time for international relations and the youngster.

The confluence of events planted an idea in Kevin's head: wouldn't it be cool to ride his bike across the entire length of the Great Wall? It would be indeed, and 18 years later the Chinese government kindly granted Kevin his wish. The Great Wall is a national treasure to China and one of the great wonders of the world. To his credit, the previously unlikely athlete performed his feat with all the required diplomacy and grace.

Against the Wall auteur Kyle Saylors grew up in what he calls a dusty West Texas town and he dreamed of traveling the world. Now, let's set things right, folks think big in Texas. When Saylors learned about this giant achievement in China, he couldn't resist the chance to make a documentary, and it's easy for even a non-Texan to see why.

You can watch the trailer here: Against the Wall Trailer

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Moon River

Student filmmaker Cody Noble produced this narrative short film while studying abroad at The American University of Paris. Kudos to him for taking the initiative while overseas; the adjustment to a new language and culture can be challenging enough without taking on a film project.

In the story, a young man feels social recognition only when singing, so one night at a party he spontaneously belts out a few bars of "Moon River." Although it's a hit from the early 1960s, and perhaps because it is, he immediately garners the attention of a young woman with whom he lands a date. All is well in Mathieu's life, but laryngitis derails his plans, leaving him wondering what in the world he has to do to fit in—and whether he should even try at all.

You can watch the trailer here: Moon River Trailer

Voice for the Wild

This thought-provoking and explorative student documentary looks at the positive side of zoos amidst increasingly vocal opposition to any and all forms of animal captivity. The Elmwood Park Zoo in Norristown, Pennsylvania provided the backdrop for the film, with employees of the zoo generously offering their time for interviews.

Many arguments favor zookeeping, and it's also important to acknowledge the abuses and injustices where they exist. But injustice against animals is far from resigned to cases of confinement, and protecting endangered species from poaching and other forms of callous human behavior is one of the powerful arguments in favor of zoos. Director Brianna Dent does a commendable job of thinking independently and shedding light on a controversial and emotional subject in a way that street activism alone won't deliver.

Opinions will continue to differ, but healthy discussion is needed because it can lead to better decisions. This film makes clear that many people involved in zookeeping genuinely love animals and have their own legitimate story to tell. You can read more about the pro and con arguments for zoos on ThoughtCo and watch the trailer here: Voice for the Wild Trailer

Monday, July 8, 2019

John Hemmer & the Showgirls

This lively and nostalgic short documentary takes a behind-the-scenes peek inside Lou Walters's famous Latin Quarter nightclub in New York. Situated at the northern edge of Times Square, the hot spot attracted A-List celebrities galore, including Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Patti Page and Mae West.

Director Kirsten Larvick includes testimony from performers who graced the stage, bringing a flashy establishment that operated on a grand scale down to an intimate and accessible level. Anyone who experienced the Latin Quarter in its heyday will be transported back in time by this short documentary, while others who missed the era will still feel its spirit. On the streets of Times Square, a place Larvick captures very well, the club's legacy lives on through flashing lights and round-the-clock energy.

You can watch the trailer here: John Hemmer & the Showgirls Trailer

Foreign

Ruby Welles is a thirtysomething woman getting by in London's Soho, the bustling West End area known for its restaurants, coffee shops, live entertainment and gay and lesbian bars. She happens to be lesbian and single, giving her plenty of material for her work as a stand-up comedienne.  To be honest, however, some of the quirky people flitting through her life are more exasperating than funny. City life can be wearisome after all.

Welles is played by real-life star comedienne Suzi Ruffell in an impressively nuanced acting debut. Director Mark Pinkosh is a veteran actor with credits going back to the 1970s, including a show many Americans will recognize, Charlie's Angels. His acting metier is fully utilized by a highly character-driven style, with excellent performances across the board.

The stand-up comedy theme and Soho setting are delivered with a concomitant touch of risquéness. By exploring such aspects of Welles's life, Pinkosh lends his lead character an added sense of need and vulnerability, making whatever small triumphs she achieves all the more meaningful.

You can watch the trailer here: Foreign Trailer

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Too Many Bodies

This distinctive music video by North Hollywood helmer Reena Dutt wowed our judges with its soulful choreography, haunting melody and strong message about gun violence. The project is tied to a website where many resources for advocacy and survivor support can be found; the URL is listed below.

Before sending anyone off to the website, it's well worth commenting that no one has ever approached the school shooting epidemic this way before, making Too Many Bodies quite special indeed. Dutt's passion for the cause of ending the tragedies shines through in the fine manner in which she produced this piece, a fitting tribute to the suffering experienced by so many young people. A music video like this one should not even have to exist, but it does and the world is better for it.

Here is the URL for the website: Too Many Bodies Website

You can watch the trailer here:


The Reckoning of Darkness

In this gothic and wildly inventive short by experienced Hollywood pro Christopher Kulikowski, who now often works under his own banner Rara Avis Films, the sole survivor of a shipwreck washes onto a shore in the extreme north of the British Isles.

The survivor, Victor, has a dark past that crosses into the surreal and paranormal, making the situation not exactly a rescue. Despite the menacing cliffs and frequent storms of the island, a sinister reversal is at work whereby the struggling castaway himself is more frightening than the imposing land he faces.

This is scary stuff. Director Kulikowski's production values are top-notch, and if this short film doesn't invite a few nightmares after a screening, then nothing on the silver screen will because it is macabre and very disturbing. You can watch the trailer here (parental discretion advised): The Reckoning of Darkness Trailer

Saturday, July 6, 2019

What's Gone (Lo Que Fue)

This contemplative film from Argentina burrows deep, asking its audience to peer beneath the surface as two 35-year-old ex-fiances reunite in Mexico City. They've been apart for several years now, and although they try to keep things up, the strong gravity of their breakup makes everything feel a bit heavy.

Director Santiago Luchini pays little attention to narrative structure, instead counting on his lead actors Patricia Bermudez and Ricardo Munoz Senior to keep the fire stirred and tell the story through their own inner expressions. Luchini's technical choices add to the effect: a cinematic throughline of gray haze dampens the mood.

Lo Que Fue is a coffee shop cinephile's digestif, with gentle pacing reminiscent of an excursion abroad to a destination where the ebb and flow of life is more relaxed and less outwardly expressed. You can watch the trailer here: What's Gone Trailer

Friday, July 5, 2019

Anthonisen Sculptor

Hunterdon County, New Jersey documentarian Tom Spain describes his film as a love story, and the sentiment comes in two forms: the 53-year bond between Bucks County sculptor George Anthonisen and his wife Ellen, and more cheekily, a slow-burning passion for sensual art.

Sculptures, frescos, chisels, hammers and easels are draped throughout this true artisan's film like a canvas, inviting but not insisting upon admiration. Attention to the finest of details, celebration of the human form and an aura of warmth would be other ways to describe the art of this film. Anyone who deeply appreciates sculpture—the type of person who can get lost within a masterpiece at a museum—will absolutely love it.

Love. Some people find it, some never do, but when you do what you love for a living and your beloved spouse supports you just about every step of the way, well, that may be as good as it gets here on Earth. Anthonisen Sculptor screens at Phillips Mill Community Center, a Bucks County institution long known for its promotion of serious and accomplished artists.

You can watch the trailer here: Anthonisen Sculptor Trailer

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Shortcut

The New Hope Film Festival is a global event and all seven continents have been represented here. By the nature of the word global, any place of origin is considered with equal weight, and that includes a select number of fine films produced in our own back yard.

Shortcut is a locally-produced film that earns its place in a curated lineup of films from around the world. Bucks County has long been known for its artists, so it's really no surprise that good films are emerging from here. Shot on the sidewalks and alleyways of Doylestown, the county seat, this short by Pennsylvania filmmaker Pete Safran tells the story of two girls who find themselves face-to-face with a homeless man while taking a shortcut through town.

Movie fans in Bucks County have every reason to feel vested in this annual event despite the  participation of people from around the globe, as evidenced by Safran's heartfelt production. You can watch the trailer here: Shortcut Trailer

Song of the Open Road: The Story of the Southern California Youth Chorale

A high school music teacher named K. Gene Simmonds started the Southern California Youth Chorale in 1965 at the height of the hippie era. The counterculture movement hardly grew out of a vacuum, with cries of "hell no, we won't go" directly tied to forced conscription, a matter of life and death. There were other undercurrents, including less healthful ones such as psychedelic drug use and artistically-inspired ones like Beat poetry. And the entire cultural milieu, it has been argued, arose out considerably older zeitgeists from outside the United States, including the Mazdakist movement of Persia and the late 19th century German Lebensreform movement.

The Youth Chorale became an international sensation, so it's worth exploring these influences to grasp the scope of Simmonds's achievement and appreciate the context in which he created such an uplifting, healthy and positive force for bringing people from diverse backgrounds together. Artistic expression at its best is universal, and Simmonds put on a widely popular show.

This film project appropriately arose out Southern California, and LA-based Director/Producer Melissa Dowler has done a fine job of demonstrating why a youth chorale that flourished in the 1960s and 70s is both relevant and worth examining today.

You can watch the trailer here: Song of the Open Road Trailer

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Follow the Leader

She's a CEO. You know the type: driven, demanding, numbers-driven and ruthless when needed. Sometimes when not.

After stepping out of her limousine onto a street littered with melting snow, she is on a tear tonight because the numbers are down. Someone is going to pay—whole teams will pay—and she will be the last one to get the axe.

A short by upstate New York filmmaker Ryan Lewis Merritt, Follow the Leader delivers the goods with style and well-landed punches. The only problem for his CEO is the catch, and movie fans, it's a whopper.

You can watch the trailer here: Follow the Leader

Vietnam Aftermath

The Vietnam War is notorious for the rejection and disenchantment suffered by many if not all of its U.S. Armed Forces veterans. The New Hope Film Festival's Director of Submissions Thom Michael Mulligan happens to be one of them, making our organization highly attuned to the issues involved.

In this moving documentary, four Vets who belong to the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans' Memorial share their riveting stories for the first time. Director Tom Phillips has an impressive filmography, with many television producer credits for The History Channel, Discovery, Nat Geo, Outdoor Channel, Smithsonian, BBC, BBC Worldwide, Comedy Central, PBS and Smithsonian. The alchemy of such experience and war-related material is powerful and extremely worthwhile.

You can watch the trailer here: Vietnam Aftermath Trailer

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Epic Quest

Enter the fantasy within a fantasy world of Epic Quest and witness a video game that can't be played—but one that is nevertheless played by real actors. Director Chelsea Goodman is an independent filmmaker and film technician from Vancouver, British Columbia. She earned her Bachelor of Motion Picture Arts at Capilano University before earning experience in set decorating and props, and she needed the entire background to successfully pull off such an unconventional project.

As for the story, world-weary bar maiden Alys, the heroine of the story, has quite the extended work day ahead when her sister Thea is kidnapped during a bar fight. The Kingdom of Riverstone is a perilous land where magic and fighting are the norm; she sure could use someone's help while hunting for dark knights in the forest. Enter Sevrin, the Magnificent Mage, but he's a complete stranger. She might be better off alone.

Goodman makes great use of her prop and set design skills in this wryly comedic web series pilot. Webisodes are rarely this elaborate, and the game theme adds an interactive element, lending a sense of trapped-on-the-sidelines helplessness as the action unfolds. Her inventive pairing of short film and fantasy game is interesting and great fun.

You can watch the trailer here: Epic Quest Trailer

Doctor C

In the 1960s, Dr. Francis Chiaramonte started a urology practice in the Southern Maryland Peninsula, a neglected suburb of Washington, D.C. populated with approximately 400,000 African-American descendants of slaves. The local healthcare system was dreadfully inadequate, forcing many people to travel hours to Washington, D.C. hospitals for routine care. Chiaramonte lobbied state and local authorities for an area hospital for years, but much to his frustration the tireless effort went precisely nowhere.

As the son of Italian immigrants from Shelter Island, New York, Chiaramonte knew firsthand how it felt to be discriminated against in favor of what decision makers considered higher priorities, so he took matters into his own hands and founded the Southern Maryland Hospital in November 1977. As the film makes clear, it was an extraordinary achievement that defied the odds.

Director Stanley Preston demonstrates instincts for a good story here, but this Maryland Motion Pictures production is also cinematically excellent, with feature film-worthy reenactments of Doctor C's life. A film this engaging can do far more than educate. It can transform, reminding us about all of those people who are underserved and encouraging us to remember that everyone matters.

You can watch the trailer here: Doctor C Trailer

Monday, July 1, 2019

A Blood Throne

Writer/Producer/Director Xavier Garcia earned his BA in Spanish Literature and Theater at Colby College, and this background is quite evident when watching A Blood Throne, a superb spinoff of the Gospel of Matthew's account of Herod, king of Judea. Based in Massachusetts, Xavier produced the film along with his brother Jonathan under the siblings' co-founded, award-winning production company Mount Harvest.

Although their website touts their faith-based film cred, we had to ask them for clarification because their final product feels quite apart from an ordinary religious niche production. And Garcia will tell you that Sunday school is not really the point. It's more a case of mining the Bible for material, then building a highly dramatic narrative about the characters, settings and situations they find. King Herod is not typical fare for a Bible-inspired film, either; in fact, the last attempt we could find in a Google search was a 1958 Italian-French epic.

Like other classically-trained dramatists, the Garcia brothers are intensely interested in characters who act unpredictably and often violently, creating a thunderstorm around themselves. And in a nod to effective structure, from this maelstrom enters another character who can counter the madness—to such an artist this could be Superman or the Biblical Jesus, it's almost beside the point.

This dual role of conviction and exploration is what makes Xavier Garcia so interesting as a filmmaker. He does profess his Christian faith, but he is thoroughly committed to telling his story wherever it takes him. Whether a believer or not, one can respect an artist who hits his marks like this one. You can read more in the Glouchester Daily Times and/or watch the trailer here: A Blood Throne Trailer

Devil's Food Cake

Filmmaker Andrew Pritzker brings a background in comedy and writing to the silver screen, having previously edited Punchline Magazine, a humorous publication distributed in Boston and New York. Pritzker parlayed his creative skills into a Master's in Film at USC Cinematic Arts, and his top-flight education is clearly evident in Devil's Food Cake.

The story involves a waitress working a lonely diner on a cold Ozark night. Right at closing time, a handsome and suave man walks in the door demanding service, and after quickly sizing him up she almost swears he's the devil himself.

A ride in his car after her old pickup breaks down only adds fuel to the fire, and by the time she gets home the fear in her soul is hotter than Hades. Now she must take action, but she's only one woman against one very ominous being. There's nothing funny about her predicament now.

You can watch the trailer here: Devil's Food Cake

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Signs of Aging

When a skincare salesperson makes a house call to pitch her line of anti-aging creams, she ends up alone in the living room with a woman who appears remarkably youthful for her age. The sales tactic had already been a little offensive with the emphasis on using a beauty product to improve one's reputation for competence, but as the two women converse things get downright creepy.

Director Tara Gadomski, a Philadelphia-based filmmaker and 2019 Sundance Knight Fellow, uses lighting and color design in subtle ways to play with the theme of appearance versus worth, and when added to the film's haunting undertone her cinematic choices demonstrate how a visual narrative can drive a story—whether it's the story in a film or one created in someone's mind.

You can read more about Signs of Aging in The News Eagle and you can watch the trailer here: Signs of Aging Trailer

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Another Yesterday

This heartwarming story concerns three high school misfits who collectively form a stronger clique than any tormenters they face possibly could in their immature states—and the schoolyard bullies are in out in full force. There is much to be said for understanding and appreciating differences while finding common ground, and the deep bond among these otherwise outcast teens is palpable.

Director Steven Heil brought considerable experience to the set of Another Yesterday, having directed five productions that won recognition in national competitions while pursuing undergraduate studies at University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, and most recently having won competitive selection to Hollywood's uberrespected Creative Minds in Sundance program. Heil's craftsmanship shows in many ways, from the outstanding performances he gets from the cast across the board, to the artful shots and the appropriate score. It's all there, distributors take note.

Someone watching the film critically might note the ultra-low budget, but who really cares about such trifles when the story draws you in so close to the characters and everything is oh-so-real? You can watch the trailer here: Another Yesterday Trailer

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Let It Go: The Cat Thief

Dark and atmospheric, this music video by new-on-the-scene Pasadena filmmaker Jonathan Raines evokes 80s sounds from artists such as Michael Sembello, Annie Lennox and even Depeche Mode, but perhaps with a purer, less synthesized aesthetic.

The colon between the two halves of the title punctuates the collaboration behind the project because the music and performance are by his friend and fellow Californian Nadine Ellman, who knows how to grab a hook and run with it—or stalk the night as a diamond thief.

You can watch a teaser here: The Cat Thief Teaser

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Union

Filmed in Birmingham, Alabama by three-time NHFF filmmaker Whitney Hamilton, who also goes by the name Whit, Union tells the story of a woman who takes on the identity of her slain brother Henry during the American Civil War. When new Henry meets former Henry's widow Virginia (richly played by Alabama native Virginia Newcomb), sparks fly and expedience leads them into a most improper-at-the-time relationship. Hence the movie's title "Union" speaks more to the story than the title would suggest—the film is actually set on the Confederate side of the war.

Whitney Hamilton has freely played the roles of men throughout her career as a producer, director and actor, and this film is the pinnacle of her work to date. Union is cinematically vast, but also intimate, and the core theme of the story is a largely unexplored one for the period—gender identity, a subject that makes Hamilton highly relevant to the zeitgeist. But that is an incomplete description for her as a filmmaker, because many women did, in fact disguise themselves as men during the Civil War and Union is based on a true story. This film is not only hip to the times, but also respectful of history, and that balance of seeming opposites is an achievement.

Adding to the complexity, this is a Civil War film set in the South and produced by Bjornquest Films, which is based in Brooklyn. Like the battlefields it depicts, Union puts preconceived notions and casual opinions on perilous ground, as Hamilton-Newcomb reveal in two emotionally loaded performances. Anyone delving into the state of affairs today, and how we got here, will benefit from watching ambitious, finely wrought films like this one.

You can watch the trailer here: Union Trailer

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Happy Birthday Rachel Confrancisco

Some patrons of the New Hope Film Festival only attend student films. The energy, the creativity, the devil-may-care freedom, whatever it may be, there is a certain je ne sais quoi to student film programs, and budget be damned they really can win you over.

Enter Happy Birthday Rachel Confrancisco, an eponymous short film with a sassy, bold attitude that stays on point from start to finish. Confrancisco in real life is tall for a woman, and she says it's a challenge justifying the extra space in the world that she occupies. On her 18th birthday, she's had enough of feeling self-conscious and apart from the norm, and now she is demanding...DEMANDING...that everyone take notice of her.

Not everyone does, and her TA in freshman English class can't even pronounce Rachel Sanfrancisco's name. The indignity of it all it too much when, after all freshmen are already low on the totem pole. (Ed. - Correction, her surname is spelled Confrancisco).

Rachel is cool, always taking her slights in stride while finding ways to up the ante. You've heard about the Boomer's Me Generation, and my own Generation X's (alleged) indifference to group identity, but no one should stand in the way of the selfie generation juggernaut, or engage the wrath of women like Rachel Confrancrisco.

You get the idea. A belated Happy Birthday, Rachel Confrancisco. We really like your film. You can watch the trailer here:




Monday, June 10, 2019

The Last Witness

Based on true events, The Last Witness by UK-based helmer Piotr Szkopiak delves into a morbid and long covered up crime committed by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. The Katyn Massacre of Spring 1940 involved the execution of 22,000 Polish military and bourgeois civilians in a remote forest. Due to the Soviet Union's World War II alliance with western countries and many subsequent Cold War sensitivities, official blame for the massacre went to the Nazi regime, a claim hard to dispute when Hitler had committed so many crimes of his own.

When British journalist Stephen Underwood (Alex Pettyfer) came across a spate of suicides by Polish soldiers, his editor abruptly and suspiciously advised him to bury the story. But the reporter sensed a much larger story was in play and went on the hunt. Unlucky for him, there were many forces aligned against him; even in post-war England it was dangerous pursuit.

The murder of innocent civilians who might pose a political threat to communist regimes was a salient feature of 20th century history and this film stands out as a testimony to the violence. The Last Witness is a taut thriller with a moral edge and it ought to be watched.

You can watch the trailer here: The Last Witness Trailer

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Ek Aasha

Some films touch you and some films entertain, but sometimes a film has a strong mission for effecting change. This is one of those films.

Ek Aasha translates to "One Hope," and the hope of the Indian and Australian transgender activists behind this film is to raise awareness about the human rights crisis that currently exists among transgender people in India. We encountered the issue firsthand after learning that lead actress Disha Yadav (Aasha) could not make the journey to New Hope and see her performance on a festival screen due to legal identity issues for her passport—she is more or less trapped inside her own country at the moment. Imagine living that kind of life.

It gets worse. Transgenders in India are rampantly discriminated against, say these filmmakers, and frequently find themselves driven into prostitution instead of pursuing their vocational dreams because doors to mainstream occupations are slammed in their faces. This film is well worth watching. The story centers around a transgender girl's aspiration to become a teacher. It's a simple and honorable wish that most people on the planet could easily take for granted.

Writer and director Mayur Katariya, producer Jasmine Evans, Stas Solodkin in India Sound post-production and cinematographer Dean Lusk, among many others, all working through Melbourne, Australia's MOR Films production company, have a big heart and a sense of urgency because they know many transgenders will continue to suffer until enough people are stirred up and these dire circumstances are corrected.

You can watch the trailer here: Ek Aasha Trailer

Friday, June 7, 2019

My Million Dollar Mom

This superb short features a middle-aged son, Ross, and his aging Mom Shirley as they struggle to reconcile his dream of running for Congress with her needs as a sufferer of dementia. Writer and producer Ross Schriftman, who essentially plays himself in a role that is at least somewhat autobiographical—we will have to wait for the Q&A to get the back story—possesses a deeply impressive sense of character, story and detail, and when combined with many thoughtful choices in production and direction, the film is thoroughly engrossing.

And impactful. The ending lands hard but in an introspective way, bringing a man full circle as he grapples with who he is and what he really wants to accomplish in life. It's a worthwhile story to tell, indeed. You can watch the trailer here: My Million Dollar Mom

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Australia Says Yes

Continuing a long line of LGTBQ offerings at the New Hope Film Festival, Australia Says Yes tells the riveting story of the struggle to achieve same sex marriage rights in the land Down Under. Moviegoers may not be aware of Australia's lag behind other industrialized countries, the harsh criminalization of homosexuality and the degree to which politicos blocked the rainbow movement.

Through interviews and a variety of relevant footage, director/writer/producer Kirk Marcolina reveals in stunning detail the dignity, frustration and ultimate triumph of his country's LGBTQ community. This documentary is an important archive that deserves serious attention, but more than that it is thought-provoking and inspirational.

You can watch the trailer here: Australia Says Yes Trailer

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Mi Amor

Set in Los Angeles, this involving and well-produced dramedy features two teenagers in the midst of a sensational crush. Both are intelligent and looking for a real relationship, and an extra dimension of commonality emerges when they discover their parents are both from Miami.

But there is more to their parents' back story. When Jonathan's mother and Raquel's stepfather bump into each other one day, quite literally, they discover they're not only from the same city. They also know each other, and the history isn't all honey and spice.

Director Yeniffer Behrens has a gentle, astute eye for relationships. You will smile and laugh with the characters of Mi Amor, and then you might feel unsettled—the shift in tone during this film is striking. And nothing is the fault of the kids. Behrens may be telling us that experience can and often does work against you in the cross-currents of love, yet when we allow ourselves innocence we can very much swim in it.

You can watch the trailer here:



Monday, April 15, 2019

Nathan's Kingdom

Director Olicer Munoz brought considerable inspiration, pedigree and experience to Nathan's Kingdom, a sci-fi coming of age drama about two siblings who chase a dazzling fantasy while fleeing social service workers. A graduate of Chapman University Film School with an M.F.A. in directing from the American Film Institute (AFI), Munoz incorporates Latino and social justice influences into his craft.

In the story, an autistic brother and opiate-addicted sister risk everything, including their lives, in pursuit of a fantastical vision they come to share, battling monsters both internal and external along the way. As their physical world merges with their fantasies, all things external become a means by which they conquer their demons—a shared experience through which their relationship grows.

The direction in this film is very strong and so is the acting. Nathan's Kingdom draws you in, not so much through enchantment and special effects, but through a magical realist's sense of how something quite out of this world can be grounded in reality. Lead actor Jacob Lince is on the autism spectrum, an unusual twist for such a significant production. Dallas native Madison Ford, who plays his sister Laura Freeman (Young Laura is played by Sarah Assumma), balances Lince's performance with a full range of emotions. Both actors bring depth and insight to their roles.

The excellence of this wonderfully progressive film is another feather in the cap for emerging director Olicer Munoz. This production also bodes well for the future of autism spectrum actors. You can watch the trailer here: Nathan's Kingdom Trailer

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Their War

Perhaps no war in history serves as a better metaphor for senseless killing than World War I—ironically also known as the Great War. Fighting for a flag without a clear cause on both sides of the battlefield, men were torn between following violent orders on the one hand and survival on the other. The stalemate and utter madness of it all led to many stories of camaraderie between Triple Entente (French, British, and Russian) forces and soldiers of the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy), almost invariably veiled over fears of getting charged with cowardice or treason.

Director Max Mason takes a hard but intimate look at these complexities in Their War, a superb short film with a keen sense of how far you can push soldiers into the pits of hell before they really fight, not against each other, but against the mission itself. For in the trenches of the Great War, deep down, most soldiers didn't want to kill their fellow man. They simply wanted to go home to their families with all limbs and faculties intact.

You can watch the trailer here: Their War Trailer